In the Land of Zeus and Gyros

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

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Where I stayed
Irini's Pancion

Flag of Greece  , Dodecanese,
Saturday, October 4, 2008

Through piercing green eyes and with an unsettling intensity, Zeus thundered "No more gyros for me!"  With a start, I shook my head and there before me I saw, not Zeus, but Laura.  Until that moment, Kevin and I had never compared our middle daughter to the god of the sky and clouds.  But through demands like this one, and the Greek mythology stories that Michael peppers us with daily, we are finding increasingly more similarities (not the least of which is that they both believe they rule the universe).  And, apparently neither of them like eating gyros very much.

Our time in Greece began with a few days in Athens.  Athens is a large, vibrant city that is strangely cosmopolitan.  In a city where the main attractions are archeological ruins dating back to 500 BC, I just didn't expect to see the multitude of shops selling Gucci handbags and Prada shoes.  Kevin and I had visited Athens 14 years ago and we didn't find it nearly as progressive, as upscale or as expensive as it is now.  The revitalization of the city in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games, combined with the introduction of the Euro in 2001 had caused prices to skyrocket.

While we didn't expect Greece to be inexpensive, we were surprised that the cheapest "hotel" we could find was 75 Euros (or about $115 Canadian).  And this was only possible by relying on Kevin's "dark side" leanings.  After the hostel quoted a price of 110 Euros, the kids and I waited there while Kevin went to scout out a less expensive place for us.  On his return, we all traipsed over to "John's Place & Taverna" where he had procured a room with 3 beds - perfect.  When we arrived at the reception, the nice lady there looked surprised and said, "There are 5 of you???"   I guess Kevin had (once again) neglected to mention this.  His response?  "Yes, but three of us are very small and very cute, don't you think?"  What could she do but smile and hand over the key...

I have to admit that we didn't do too much in Athens.  On our first day, we optimistically set out to do the walking tour recommended by our guide book.  By completing it we would see most of the important archeological sites in the city.  We made it to site number 5 (of 32) but didn't get any further.  Site #5 included Syntagma Square (the central square), the Parliament Buildings and hungry pigeons.  I'll let you guess which one caused the walking tour to be permanently stalled (but if you guess something that involves small seeds and antiseptic hand gel, you'll be on the right track).  We did get to watch the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament Buildings, however.  The kids were amused by the pom-poms on the shoes of the guards, the exaggerated ceremonial walks and the stone-faced expressions.   Some tourists (who were inadvertently standing in the path of the incoming guards) weren't as amused when the new guards marched right through them (or more accurately, over them) on their way to their new posts.   These guys look mean and mean business....the royal baklava is safe!!

As you probably guessed, the real draw for our kids in the central square was the pigeons.  We fed them numerous times during our stay in Athens, sometimes twice a day.  I finally had to put my foot down on the basis that the poor birds would become dependent on us if we didn't stop.   The pigeons here are either well-trained or very hungry.  They sat on our arms, hands, shoulders, backs and one even landed on Laura's head to get a bite of food.  I wonder if I should be worried that we've taken our kids out of school for a year, only to have 'feeding the pigeons in as many different countries as they can' be the primary goal they've set for themselves. 

No visit to Athens is complete without a trip to the Acropolis.  The sight is incredibly impressive, especially considering that it dates back 2,500 years.  And it was humbling to think that Socrates, one of the greatest thinkers of all time, once walked on the same rocks that we were now walking upon.  Of course, when he was here I'm sure he was philosophizing about matters of greater levity than "Can the Maple Leafs possibly win the Stanley Cup without Mats Sundin?"  [For clarity, that's a shot at my husband...although, come to think about it, I believe Socrates was still alive when the Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup.  I think I just got two shots in.  Which, come to think of it again, is more than the Leafs normally get in].  In some ways, the kids didn't really seem to appreciate what they were seeing here, but we took a picture of them in front of the Parthenon so they can one day reminisce about what good parents we are.   On a positive homeschooling note, we noticed all the gaps in between the rocks on the path up to the Acropolis and agreed that the Incas were much better stonemasons than the Ancient Greeks.   Good to see that some things are sticking, however trivial.

We only spent a few days in Athens and the highlight for everyone was meeting up with Kevin's mom and dad for lunch.  They happened to be on a Mediterranean Cruise and their one-day stop in Athens coincided with our three-day stop here.  We had arranged to meet in the Plaka for easy feat.  The Plaka is a large pedestrian walkway with hundreds of shops and restaurants and "streets" that wind around in every direction.  When Kevin's parents didn't arrive at the pre-selected restaurant precisely on time, Kevin paced up and down the major walkways to find them.  Spotting them, he yelled out "Hey Old People" and then watched as dozens of people wearing Princess Cruise tour badges turned their heads to answer.   We spent a few wonderful hours together, eating, showing them our "hotel room", feeding the pigeons and visiting.  It's interesting that (amidst everything in Athens) the highlight was seeing someone who lives an hour away from us.  There might be a message in there somewhere for us;  if only we were wearing sparkling ruby slippers we might be able to figure it out....

We are now on the Greek island of Kos and enjoying some sun, sand and relaxation.  We arrived here after an "overnight" ferry ride upon which Kevin splurged and booked us into a cabin.  It was great, and (surprisingly) the cabin was just as nice as a cabin on a cruise ship.  "This is the life", I thought to myself.  Unfortunately, this thought was nowhere in my mind when our wake-up call came at 3:45 AM to ensure we would vacate the ship by 4:30.  The Blue Star Ferry had unfortunately arrived at the port on time.

Some of the miscellaneous highlights from Kos (and Greece in general) include:

    Irini, the 60 year old "Rooms to Let" owner, who was waiting on her motorcycle at the port at 4:30 AM to help weary travelers like us.  She gave us a good price (despite being able to clearly see our children) and agreed to let us check in immediately (without paying for the remainder of the night/morning)...for no added charge we got to hear her yell at her grown children every day (and all day).  As a contrast to Athens, our final night here only cost us 15 Euros; 

    Tarzan Beach - every afternoon we would head here to play on the beach.  The waiters are dressed like Tarzan, and the waitresses (you guessed it) like Jane.  Every day after lunch, the chief Tarzan (after a true Tarzan yell) dances with Jane (this one in drag).  Jane manages to break her "water balloon breasts" on some unsuspecting sunbathers as Tarzan carries her off into the ocean.  Good clean fun.

    And speaking of breasts...  Thirty seconds after arriving at the beach, a well-endowed topless sunbather came over and said "Do you want to play with these?"  Kevin was speechless (but no doubt Mats Sundin was no longer on his mind).  Then he realized she was carrying two blow-up floating mattresses for the children;

    The island of Kos has many more stray cats than dogs.  Up to now we have mainly seen stray dogs.  Michael offered up his theory that it was because cats can't swim.   Now, anytime we see a stray dog on the island, we are quick to point out to him that it must be because the poor dog isn't able to swim... 

    The whole Greek language thing is not going so well for any of us.  Just as I thought I had figured out all the different forms of hello, I told the hotel owner to have a good sleep as we left for dinner, and said good evening to a shop owner at 1:30 in the afternoon.  Surely our guidebook could be a bit more detailed...  We've also had the problem of occasionally answering Yes/No questions in French (which really throws people off).   The use of the Greek alphabet doesn't help either; the only redeeming thing is that our kids now have firsthand experience of where the saying "It's all Greek to me" comes from;

    Kevin's never-ending quest for free Wi-Fi has continued.  No problem in Athens - Syntagma Square had a full publicly available service.  Not surprisingly, Irini's Pancion doesn't come with Wi-Fi.  So, Kevin has been sitting on a bench at an intersection close to our hotel.  One night he was greeted by a friendly gentleman who asked, "Internet access?"  Kevin proudly confirmed that he had it.  A few minutes later, the same gentleman peered through his shop window (co-incidentally right behind the bench) and smiled.  As Kevin's previously perfect connection disappeared, the gentleman reappeared and with a smile said, "Internet access kaput, no?"  Then, he helpfully suggested that Kevin try closer to the central square or in a coffee shop;

    Did you know that Greeks eat the most cheese per capita of anyone in the world - 25kg per year, (about the mass of Laura)...  Also, for cheese to be named Feta, it supposedly must be produced in Greece (similar, I guess, to how champagne must be produced in Champagne,)...I'm not sure this "rule" has made it to Canada yet;

    We are really enjoying Greek food - baklava, souvlaki, gyros, baklava, kalamari, tzatziki, meatballs....  Oh, and did I mention baklava?  (Don't worry the kids are scheduled to see the dentist in November when we're home).  The restaurants have been very accommodating for our children.  At the combination Greek/Chinese restaurant we ate at one night, the kids danced in between the tables (to the amusement of the other patrons and the owners).  We figured it was okay when the English chap waving people into the restaurant started doing (his version of) the Michael Jackson moonwalk with us.  All to Greek music....scary;

    The biggest claim to fame of the island of Kos is that it was the birthplace of Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine".  Prior to Hippocrates, people relied solely on magicians and priests for healing.  The island showcases the plane tree that Hippocrates is thought to have taught his students under.  At 2,000 years old, it is held upright with scaffolding.  (Note:  Our guidebook seemed dubious about whether this was "the" tree since plane trees normally only live to be 200 years old.)  The island also houses the remains of the first hospital in the world.  The oath taken by doctors today was written right here on Kos by Hippocrates  and is as valid today as it was when it was first written; 

    I am not a history buff, nor have I ever been good at remembering who defeated who in what war.  I did know that Alexander the Great was a fierce conqueror, so I was surprised to see the extract from a speech he made within a monument about him.  (Zoom in on the attached picture if you're interested).  First, I was surprised that a man who spent most of his life fighting could speak such peaceful words.  Second, at how little progress we have really made in race relations in 2,000 years.  How sad to think that these issues still plague us.

On a final note, when we were home one loyal reader suggested that my idea of a luxury hotel was somewhat questionable.  I believe he was referring to our luxury accommodation in the Peruvian Rainforest when he said "Tracy, a hotel that doesn't have doors, comes with cockroaches and is missing walls is not a luxury hotel.  It's just a bunch of beds in the jungle."  Hmmm, I thought...maybe we should splurge for something nicer.  Nope, that's not going to happen (but at least I haven't tried to pass off John's Place or Irini's Pancion as anything even remotely luxurious). 

And speaking of Irini, it's time to go.  The 8pm yelling match is starting and we have front row seats on our balcony...better than TV!
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